Finally, a good decision on the courthouse

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Last week, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors finally did the right thing when it comes to the county’s courthouse debacle; they hit the brakes and then pressed the reset button.

For months, if not years, county and city taxpayers have been seeking answers to questions about the skyrocketing projected costs of renovating the courthouse. What was once projected as a roughly $15 million project, the most recent plans produced by Moseley, the architectural firm tasked by the county to develop plans for the renovations, has ballooned to $25 million. To add insult to injury, the board clearly ignored the results of the November 2017 referendum, in which voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of building a new courthouse in a new location, by approving plans to build a new courthouse anyway, albeit on “adjacent” property, which is technically not a violation of the referendum.

Furthermore, the board voted to absorb Franklin’s courts into one new, larger complex in Courtland without it being taken up by Franklin’s City Council, and also without either locality seeking a legal opinion on the ramifications of doing so as recommended by the state’s Supreme Court.

The handling of this entire fiasco has been nothing short of a hot mess for some time. All parties involved are culpable. Elected officials in both the city and county appear to have been asleep at the wheel. Legal representation for both has ignored the advice to receive independent legal opinions. The decision to fold Franklin’s courts into the county’s doesn’t just give off the appearance of impropriety, it’s emitting a stench that is difficult to tolerate.

The decision of the county’s board to issue a new request for proposal for plans to specifically renovate the existing courthouse was the first responsible act it has taken since the courthouse train left the tracks. What remains to be seen is if enough progress can be made by the board within the short time period granted by the fifth circuit’s judges that it can avoid a court-ordered renovation plan that is out of the county’s control.

We remain hopeful, but regrettably not optimistic.